A Cass County official says leaders are considering providing a public informational meeting on a proposed wind turbine project as soon as negotiations with an energy company conclude.
The announcement followed continued requests for such a session, like Marilyn DeWitt’s during Tuesday’s Cass County Plan Commission meeting.
“I do believe it is time for the commissioners to hold a meeting and have all the same answers given to the people,” she said. “Give us a chance.”
Jim Sailors, president of the county commissioners and plan commission, said after the plan commission meeting that officials will look into providing an informational meeting after negotiations with Renewable Energy Systems, the company behind the project, conclude. Until then, Sailors said a confidentiality agreement prevents officials from discussing much of the project.
“When a business comes to the county, there’s a confidentiality agreement that you have to sign until the business determines that it’s time to give all the facts about something,” Sailors said. “That’s why we can’t say some things. It’s not because we don’t want to.”
The ongoing negotiations address topics like drainage, redevelopment, roads and decommissioning the turbines, Sailors said after the county commissioners meeting later on Tuesday.
Brad Lila, development director for Renewable Energy Systems, commented on the need for confidentiality by phone Tuesday.
“I think it’s important that the process play itself out,” he said. “In the end, that’s going to be a public document that everybody will be able to review and opine on.”
But not change, Lila acknowledged, adding it wouldn’t be practical to negotiate the project publicly.
Lila also said Renewable Energy Systems would be interested in being part of a future informational meeting in Cass County about the project.
Kyle Reed, Royal Center, said at Tuesday’s plan commission meeting that a petition presented to county commissioners last month is now up to 1,345 signatures. The petition asks officials to revisit the county’s rules on commercial wind turbines, including requiring the structures to be at least 2,640 feet from property lines.
Cass County’s current ordinance requires commercial wind turbines to be a rotor blade’s length from property lines and 1,000 feet from residences. RES has indicated it will place its turbines at least 1,500 feet from residences. The company plans to bring as many as 150 turbines about 600 feet tall to the northern part of Cass County. Plans are in the works for turbines in Miami County too.
Attendees of Tuesday’s plan commission and commissioners meetings expressed concerns about the safety of wind turbines, the need to have guaranteed decommissioning funds and rejections for requested information.
Leslie Murray drew applause when she told commissioners the damage would be irreparable if the project is allowed to proceed with the current regulations in place.
“You can still cancel the wedding. It’s not too late,” she said.
John Williamson spoke in favor of the project at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. Citing WINDExchange, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, Williamson called wind energy cost-competitive and praised it for having no emissions and low operating costs while providing income to landowners, schools and governments.
The commissioners concluded public comments despite more attendees wishing to speak because a county drainage board meeting was scheduled in the same location.
Some attendees expressed frustration toward the cutoff afterward, recalling how the commissioners did not take similar action the last time their meeting preceded a drainage board meeting on Dec. 4, 2017.
Sailors said in an interview after Tuesday’s drainage board meeting that because public comments were not cut off at the Dec. 4 meeting, it forced the drainage board meeting to start late and officials did not want to delay it again.
“That’s not the only issue in the county,” Sailors said of the wind turbine project.
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